Where do Martians bank? At Mars National Bank, of course.

Mars is a real-life bank, in the Pennsylvania town of that name (55 miles southwest of Venus, Pa.). Its motto: "for service out of this world."

It's not the only community bank in the nation with an oddball name. There are banks with animal names (Raccoon Valley State Bank in Adel, Iowa), banks named for explorers (Ponce de Leon Federal Savings Bank in the Bronx, N.Y.) - there is even a bank named after the 1800s' version of Federal Express - Pony Express Bank in Braymer, Mo.

But unusual bank names are an endangered species, because merger mania threatens to deplete community banks the way fast-food restaurants drove out diners.

In April, for instance, Flat Top National Bank of Bluefield, W.Va., gave up its name in a merger. Now, it's called - yawn - First Community Bank of Bluefield.

"We were not named after the flat-top haircut," says Patty Roberts, setting the record straight.

Ms. Roberts, who is secretary to the chief executive and has been with the bank 27 years, said the bank was named after a coal mining region in the southern portion of the state.

At first glance one might think Argyle State Bank was named after the knitting pattern commonly seen on sweater vests and socks. No way, says Peter Carlson, president of the bank, which is based in Argyle, Minn.

"Legend has it that it was named after the Duke of Argyle of Scotland," he said.

Some banks are simply blessed with names destined to end up on the silver screen, like Pocahontas Federal Savings and Loan in Pochahontas, Ark.

Has the hit animated feature "Pocahontas" helped the thrift?

"Not us," said Joe R. Martin, the thrift's 70-year-old chairman.

Years ago, the thrift created "Lil Pokie," a cartoonish Native American girl wearing a big smile, a cape, and a feather.

Lil Pokie "is one of the greatest things that has ever happened to us," Mr. Martin said. "She's on everything - envelopes, wrist watches, mugs, scratch pads, coloring books."

The people at Mars National, too, are proud of their name. The is generally held to have been named for Samuel Marshall, a founding father who helped establish the first post office there in 1873. But "there is some controversy about it," said Sally Sturm, director of the Mars Area Public Library. "Some say it was named after the planet.

Anyway, the locals like to have fun with the name. A couple of years ago bank officials attended an annual convention wearing Martian suits and armed with ray guns, said Al Petrosky, a senior lending officer with the bank.

He said Mars bankers are constantly reminded of the red planet. They lunch at the Planet Pizza Shop, watch the high school's Mars Planets play sports, and admire the town's monument - a spaceship across the street from Mars National.

"We all get a good laugh out of it," Mr. Petrosky, said.

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